HELSINKI (Reuters) - Glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto Co's Roundup herbicide, should not be classified as a substance causing cancer, the European Chemical Agency (ECHA) concluded on Wednesday.
Contradictory findings on carcinogenic risks have thrust the chemical into the center of a dispute between EU and U.S. politicians, regulators and researchers.
"This conclusion was based both on the human evidence and the weight of the evidence of all the animal studies reviewed," Tim Bowmer, chairman of ECHA's Committee for Risk Assessment, said in an online briefing.
The European Union last July granted an 18-month extension of its approval for the weed killer, pending further scientific study.
This came after a proposal for full license renewal met with opposition from member states and campaign groups.
The ECHA's opinion will be forwarded to the European Commission for final decision making.
"It's not a direct impact which this opinion has, but it's up to the commission now," said Jack de Bruijn, ECHA's Director of Risk Management.
The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies glyphosate as "probably carcinogenic" while many government regulators, including the United States, see the weed killer as unlikely to pose a cancer risk to humans.
According to data published by IARC, glyphosate was registered in over 130 countries as of 2010 and is one of the most heavily used weed killers in the world.
Analysts have estimated that Monsanto could stand to lose out on up to $100 million of sales if glyphosate were banned in Europe.
(Reporting by Jussi Rosendahl and Tuomas Forsell in Helsinki, additional reporting by Kate Kelland in London; Editing by Tom Heneghan)